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Going it alone

In Columbus there’s no lack of hubris when it comes to wide-eyed musicians starting bands, playing shows, and gassing up the tour van. Our music scene is defined and dominated by bands of all stripes. But what of those who choose to go it alone each and every night? Those solitary souls who can only [...]
Kevin J. Elliott

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In Columbus there’s no lack of hubris when it comes to wide-eyed musicians starting bands, playing shows, and gassing up the tour van.

Our music scene is defined and dominated by bands of all stripes. But what of those who choose to go it alone each and every night? Those solitary souls who can only command the ear of a crowd at a noisy bar or an intimate art gallery with their own two hands? Now that takes guts. It can go either way—you either have them in the palm of your hand or you have their complete indifference. Fortunately, Columbus has been of late a healthy place for those who have more singular, personal ways of expression. It’s not as if the folksy/coffee shop/journeyman scene of open mics and neck harmonicas has never existed, it’s just now it’s becoming the feature rather than the wallpaper. As a primer, here are three artists spearheading a growing community of solo acts.

Andy Cook

When asked what he admires most about being a solo musician, Andy Cook instinctually said it was the “artistic freedom” that being with oneself allowed. Cook’s vision as a songwriter is kaleidoscopic. Though most nights he’s on stage alone with his guitar, in his head and in the psychedelic pop of his latest release, All Turns Blue, he’s exploring a world of sound. Perhaps that’s why Cook rented a warehouse, which he calls the “Final Frontier,” where he hid away for two-and-a-half years to complete the album. For what he wanted to express, he needed a place bigger than an apartment and more personable than a studio in which to create.

Photo by Maria Levitov

Photo by Maria Levitov

“This record kicked my ass. It drained me both emotionally and physically,” said Cook about making All Turns Blue. “Right now, my soul and everything feels beaten down and dead. But it’s all in this record, so it’s worth it.”

Cook’s enthusiasm and drive have never been in question. He learned guitar at an early age in his hometown of Oberlin from Kevin Jones, a teacher of the delta blues, and as soon as Cook could leave the “boot-camp” that was the liberal arts campus, he and his first band, the Ghost Town Trio, migrated from Ohio to “make it” in Los Angeles. Cook found the band a constraint on his songwriting and his aspirations to tour constantly. Soon he found himself hanging out at the Stink House, a house show house in Columbus, scrapping to make a name for himself.

In recent years though, his persistence has made his craft a viable endeavor, and he returns frequently to L.A., “hungry for advice” on how to reach the next level in a music industry that has changed dramatically.

“I just want to make pop in the sense of what it used to be,” said Cook, referencing Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Randy Newman as spiritual guides. “I just want to let the art that comes out of me do its thing.”

For music and tour dates visit
www.andycookmusic.com

The Saturday Giant

On whatever day you’re reading this, Phil Cogley and his one-man band will likely be steering toward cities as far-flung as Wasau, WI or Carrboro, N.C. Who knows for sure if it’s a dive bar, a coffee shop, a living room, loft, or backyard? The Saturday Giant is a beat-centric, indie-rock party in a mileage-guzzling hatchback. Cogley can play anywhere, anytime, and he’s already accumulated 70,000 miles on his latest ride.

When The Saturday Giant started in 2010, Cogley’s goals were both modest and ambiguous. The project began as a trio, but after a few months of complications and an itching wanderlust to get out on the road, Cogley bought a loop pedal and trimmed the operation to one.

“Playing with other musicians was great—don’t get me wrong,” says Cogley. “But it just wasn’t working.head scratch I wrote that first record by myself because I didn’t want to deal with other people’s bullshit and here I was dealing with other people’s bullshit. I needed to figure out once and for all how to do that.”

He’s the first to admit that what you see on the stage these days—a seamless stream of catchy songs assembled from loops played live by Cogley—took some time to master. He credits his performances to muscle memory; it’s an intricate patchwork of pedal clicks and twisted knobs to compose with spare parts. That most of the tunes materialize as if being played by a fully orchestrated band is quite mesmerizing.

For Cogley, going solo means he’s a “one-person committee.” In the various small towns The Saturday Giant has played all over the country, Cogley can decide at a moment’s notice what kind of show it’s going to be. It’s something that he calls “incredibly freeing,” whether it’s the intricate loop miasmas that can entrance a deliberately listening crowd, or stripping it down and turning up the drums for an atmosphere of revelry at an after-party. As soon as you bring in a live drummer, or a second guitarist, that luxury Cogley gets on the road becomes skewed.

For music and tour dates visit
www.thesaturdaygiant.com

Maria Levitov

Though she’s been playing and writing songs since she was 16, Maria Levitov didn’t find her footing as an artist until a decade later when fate landed her in Columbus. On a trip from New York to our city to help out her brother with photography (her craft by day), she found herself never leaving, ending up living in a studio that produced records for the DewDroppers and Forest and the Evergreens. Eventually the inspiration surrounding her every day encouraged Levitov to record what would become Hold, her debut album released earlier this year.

“If you would have told me that I would be living in Columbus I would have laughed,” remembered Levitov. “Looking back, and living here for a while, I can’t imagine it any other way.”

Hold is definitely a product of Levitov’s current environment. Though she got a little help from her Processed with VSCOcam with p5 presetnewfound friends in our buoyant music scene on the record, what’s most striking about the songs therein is Levitov’s mercurial voice. Hers exudes a warmth that is the perfect foil to the icy atmospherics that surround the words. On her last tour, which Levitov called an “art” tour due to her dabbling in photography, videography, and collaboration with other musicians along the way, her audiences dubbed her heartfelt performances “winter folk,” and indeed, much of Hold could be the ethereal cousin to Bon Iver.

As Levitov moves forward, she doesn’t want to be painted into that soloist corner though.

“What’s expected is for it to be moody, slow, and lyrically driven,” said Levitov of what’s next. “The new stuff is a lot different. It’s got rhythm, movement, and I think now I have a lot more confidence.”

For music and tour dates visit
www.marialevitov.com

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Music industry designates Blackout Tuesday as time of pause

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To honor the memory of George Floyd and fix the injustices surrounding his death, the music industry has designated Tuesday as a time of pause to collaborate on ways to better support the black community.

Businesses and organizations within the music industry have been asked to pause regular work to reflect on how they can better serve the black community, according to a report from Variety. In general, businesses and organizations across the board have been asked to use Tuesday as a way to focus on the effort.

The message that circulated around social media quickly on Monday stated that “Blackout Tuesday” is being used as “a day to disconnect from work and reconnect with our community” and “an urgent step of action to provoke accountability and change.”

The movement has been gaining momentum under the hashtag #TheShowMustBePaused. Major labels such as Capitol Music Group and Warner Music Group announced their alignment with the “Blackout Tuesday” cause. 

Companies have also announced practices such as pausing social media activity throughout the whole day.

Spotify and ViacomCBS have already announced an 8 minute and 46-second moment of silence for Tuesday. The time reflects how long the Minnesota police officer dug his knee into the kneck of Floyd.

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Curbside Concerts brings live music, hope to those in need

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Can’tStopColumbus took a quick pause when the pandemic shut down the world and asked two questions:

  1. Are we sure we're solving the needs of everyone in our community during this time? 
  2. Are we not just coming up with ideas based on our own experiences?

Our elder community was one of the major demographics to have stricter socially distancing guidelines suggested to them. Holidays and birthdays went by without hugs from grandpa or grandma’s cookies.

Out of the need to fill that missing love in the life of American seniors, the idea of Curbside Concerts was born. Anyone is able to jump on the Curbside Concerts signup page and request a concert for an elder, sick people not able to leave the house, or a simple celebration.

Sending a concert telegram is free, and you can also leave a message for a loved one and suggest what type of tunes the organization-selected Columbus-area musician.

So far, the feedback has been inspiring. 

“People cried. I cried. We cried. It was beautiful,” said Zach Friedman, one of the service’s founders and creators. “We had a powerful idea on our hands, and the amazing power of the #Can'tStopColumbus community to scale it and bring it to life.”

To date, Curbside Concerts has had over 50 volunteers. Their job is to drive around a Columbus musician and their equipment with trucks provided by Ricart Automotive. It’s a road trip around the Columbus area, delivering concerts to those who may just need their spirits lifted. It’s like a non-depressing version of Inside Llewyn Davis.

Support has come from all ends of the Columbus creative community, including The Columbus Foundation, Greater Columbus Arts Council, Streetlight Guild, and What? Productions. Through these organizations, musicians are able to be paid for a route that usually lasts five to six hours. 100 percent of the donations they receive on their route also goes to the musicians.

Friedman is asking people to keep requests to older audiences.

“Working with local musicians to perform curbside at people's homes is the vehicle or medium, but the real thing we are doing here is connecting those to older people they love, with an authentic and emotional experience to send love over,” Friedman said.

We found out pretty quickly how much as a collective that we take live music for granted. Live streams have been a temporary, dulled-down replacement. You realize how long people have been robbed of the experience when you see a musician pull up in a pickup truck, set up in five minutes, and serenade neighborhoods with songs like “Lean on Me” and “What A Wonderful World.” It starts off with a message to one house and then resonates down the street, like the citizens of Gas Town rushing to The People Eater for even a drop of water.

Photos by Zak Kolesar

For most people, it was their first taste of live music since mid-March. While we may want concerts to return as soon as possible, its productions like Curbside Concerts that display the emotional power of music.

To request to send someone a concert, follow the link here: https://sendaconcert.herokuapp.com/request

To volunteer for Curbside Concerts, follow the link here: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/9040b45abaa22a4fb6-curbside

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Arts & Culture

Live music allowed again in restaurants and bars: how will these establishments respond?

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A major step forward in the return of live music in Ohio took place over the weekend. The Ohio coronavirus guidelines were updated to reflect the new COVID-19 Dine Safe Ohio Order.

The order outlining the guidelines on live music in restaurant and bars is as follows:

Musicians and bands may perform in restaurants and bars as long as the individuals who are performing maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet from all other people including, but not limited to, fellow performers and restaurant and bar patrons and staff.

DJ's are included along with musicians and bands in the order.

Something that was on the mind of a lot of musicians with the reopening of restaurants and the indefinite closing of large venues was how restaurants and bars were going to respond to the immediate venue demand. Places like Woodlands Tavern that already have an infrastructure for live music will have no problem complying with the updated order, but will restaurants and bars that depended on jukeboxes before pivot to a live music model?

With a lot more space available in restaurants due to capacity cuts, does this leave more room for a live music set up? Or will restaurants have to get rid of even more tables if they want to make room for a performer?

The thought of live music in a venue setting is alone enough to get excited about. How these places that now have the ability to host live music execute freeing up space for a band to set up or a DJ to bring his rig in while practicing social distancing is what makes this situation a tricky one.

Not being able to get down in a MojoFlo Soul Train line will be pretty tough, but it’s a tradeoff we’ll have to accept for the return of live music.

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